State spending $35 million in federal funding to fortify health care workforce
Gov. Ned Lamont announced a program Wednesday that will use $35 million in federal funding to bolster the state’s health care workforce.
At a news conference in New Haven at Southern Connecticut State University, Lamont and higher education and state medical leaders espoused the program. They said it will diversify and solidify the state’s health care workforce that’s still suffering the devastating effects wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s true in nursing. It’s true in mental health. It’s true in health care in general, we have a desperate need for people trained,” Lamont said Wednesday. “We have well over 100,000 jobs, a lot of them right here in health care, that we’re having a hard time filling.”
The program, CT Health Horizons, will use $35 million that was allocated in this year’s state budget for tuition assistance for low-income and minority students to enter accelerated nursing and social work programs and for recruitment and retention of faculty at the state’s community colleges and other institutions in order to open up more space for applicants, among other initiatives.
It’s a partnership between Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, state agencies, the Office of Workforce Strategy, UConn, the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges and the Connecticut Hospital Association.
According to the governor’s office, CSCU will serve as the general program manager and recipient of funds.
Connecticut Chief Workforce Officer Kelli Vallieres said at the news conference Wednesday that the state, and the country, “continue to have a critical workforce need in health care.”
“Within Connecticut, the health care and social assistance jobs have overshadowed every industry in online postings, with more than 22,000 job postings since June of this year,” Vallieres added. “We are working to encourage partnerships and programs between higher education and health care employers. This is making the targeted investment to grow Connecticut’s workforce.”
The state estimates that CT Health Horizons will provide tuition support to 1,200 students entering social work and nursing programs. It should expand capacity in these programs by accounting for 1,000 additional students.
Beth Beckman, the chief nurse executive at Yale New Haven Health, said the state currently is accepting an average of only one out of four qualified applicants for nursing training programs. “We need them all,” she said.
State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, ranking member of the state legislature’s public health committee, said the help going toward the health care workforce is “overdue, but welcome news.”
“This is something that I had been pushing for in public health for probably eight years now,” Somers said. “We need to do something as we have an aging demographic and not enough care for those aging. COVID has exacerbated that problem. Hospitals and nursing homes, they’re all understaffed. There’s not enough people in those particular jobs. Training is a big part of it, and we’ve been limited by the number of spots available.”
Somers said the program could help Three Rivers Community College’s nursing program, though she has not heard specifically how the money could impact Three Rivers.
“We have a great program through Three Rivers, but there’s not enough space,” she said.
Somers added that the state should work with unions to determine how to prevent burnout and improve retention of health care professionals.
CSCU Director of Communications Ann Harrison said Wednesday that details on how the $35-million will affect Three Rivers were not available, but she expects there to be an effect in the school’s nursing programs as well as its social and behavioral health programs.
“We’ll need to expand our capacity for clinical experience but also provide the workforce to those institutions,” Harrison said of how the program could affect clinical sites for Three Rivers such as L+M Hospital.
Connecticut’s Congressional delegation also issued a statement about the program.
“This significant investment in training nurses and behavioral health providers is exactly the kind of program Congress had in mind when we passed the American Rescue Plan Act to help our nation rebuild from the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the delegation said in a joint statement. “The need for mental health services skyrocketed during the pandemic and an already alarming shortage of nurses is now at an all-time high, leaving our health care systems understaffed at a critical time.”